Saturday, July 19, 2008

Creative Avoidance, My Male Brain, and Getting Sir’d in DC

Creative avoidance…that’s what I call it. The joys of internet wanderlust… distracting and illuminating, the contemporary office-bound-procrastinator’s drug of choice. I have a stack of papers to grade, assignments to read, a lecture and an exam to prepare, two RFPs to sort out, two draft essays in progress, a poor excuse for the start of a novel, and a half written book proposal…all things vying for my attention. Yet today I found myself sitting at my desk in my office looking at a website that informed me I have a male brain. That’s right. According to the diagnostic test I took on a BBC website, I think like a man. And so I will continue to creatively avoid my work and prattle on a bit about what I learned.

The BBC worked with a bunch of shrinks who have developed various tests exploring the differences in the way men and women think. These tests are being used to conduct further research on the subject of brain sex differences. This hybrid test is available online for anyone to take and supposedly discover where they fall on the “male-female brain continuum.” If you want to take the test before reading more about it, go to:

The researchers present a continuum that starts at zero and goes to 100 on a female side and 100 on a male side. I scored 50 on the male side…this is the average score for men (the average score for women is 50 on the female side). I think and perceive certain things like the average man. Oh joy.

The first part of the test is the perception and comparison of angles. I have seen other experiments where women were asked to identify a plum line or a horizon line relative to another angled line. I watched as they failed miserably and the men got it with ease. I remember feeling uneasy about this…thinking I could do better but fearing I actually couldn’t. And for some reason I remember really caring about my potential performance and ability to spatially comprehend my world (I also remember reading about women having better digital dexterity which lead researchers to suggest they would be better at brain surgery….for some reason this didn’t bother me…hee hee). But back to the angles. I did the exercises and got every one right…20 out of 20. Yeah! As a sailor and navigator, activities that benefit greatly if one can distinguish horizons and differences in angles, I was elated. The average score for women: 13.3/20, and for men: 15.1/20.

Other fascinating things purported to make my brain male: my right thumb being dominant when I cross my hands, a long ring finger relative to my index finger (which indicates left brain dominance), a lack of sensitivity in noticing moved objects, the ability to identify 3D shapes in different positions, being attracted to feminine female faces, and the inclination to ask for money (take the test and this will all make sense).

But the part of the test I found most interesting was the section where I was asked to identify a persons emotions by looking at their eyes. I didn’t do so hot. I scored 5 out of 10. The average man scored 6.6. This result surprised me because I have actually actively studied facial expressions and their associated emotions.

Dr. Paul Ekman has spent many years studying facial muscles, expressions, and their associated emotions. He asserts that there is a universal correlation between human microexpressions and our emotional responses. Microexpressions are facial expressions that may last as little as a quarter of a second and reveal our initial emotional responses. According to Ekman’s research, these microexpressions are universal in their presentation, cannot be faked, and are the same for every human being. He has studied people from all over the world (including people from Papua New Guinea who have never been exposed to western culture). Ekman asserts that learning to read these fleeting microexpressions can help people better understand the emotional responses of people with whom they interact.

As part of his work Ekman has developed an interactive tool (available on CD) to develop one’s ability to read these microexpressions. He claims one can learn this stuff in an hour and I have found this to be true. A couple years ago I bought Ekman’s CD, took the diagnostic test and scored about 70%. I then did the tutorial and took another test. Within one hour my score rose to 97%. I was amazed. Recently I used this tool in a class I am teaching. Preparing for the class I took the test again (about two years since the first time). With no review I scored 96%. And when I used the tool during class, I watched as the students just as quickly developed their skills. Interestingly enough, contempt and disgust are the easiest to identify. My students came back the next week amazed at how much contempt and disgust they had not been seeing in their lives.

Despite the skills I supposedly cultivated using Ekman’s interactive CD, I scored poorly on this section of the sex-brain test which further solidified the notion that I think and perceive like a man.

But this isn’t the only time research has categorized me as male-ish. I remember in college taking a speech class where the teacher would often talk about male-female differences in communication. Once she told the class to freeze in their desks and then look around and see the differences in the way men and women occupied their seats. For the most part, the men took up more space, legs and arms spread open. The women kept their limbs closer in…took up less space. And then there was me, leaning back, legs stretched way out and open, arms up clasped behind my head. I had one of the most “masculine” postures in the class during that little experiment. The teacher pointed out that these are generalizations and not always applicable. But this was not the only time in the class I was the exception…and by the end of the semester the teacher would jokingly say, “Except for Marie, how many of you women have…yada yada yada.” I was almost always the exception to the generalized differences between men and women that were presented in class. What a shocker.

So all this got me to thinking about how much I have been “sir’d” lately. That’s what I call it when people call me “sir” despite the fact that I am female. A few months ago I was in Washington DC for work. Now I know the East Coast is more conservative than the west coast in many ways, including playing with gender, but DC was astonishingly clueless. I arrived in DC by train and jumped in a cab and headed towards the downtown Hilton. When the cab pulled up the doorman opened my door and said, “Welcome sir.” I nodded with a grin. I paid the cabbie, grabbed my bag, and headed to the counter to check in…”Hello sir. Welcome to the Hilton.” I handed the man my reservation paper which had my name on it. He looked at it and welcomed me again ending with “Mr. RainH20.” He hadn’t noticed that the paper had my full name, Marie RainH20. He hadn’t considered that most men are not named Marie. “One or two keys sir?” “One” I answered. He stood there prim and proper, providing extra respectful service, and utterly clueless that he was missing something. Grinning, I watched him work. He then came around the counter to hand me my key, explaining this and that, ending with, “Sir, the elevator to your floor is right this way. Have a wonderful evening sir.” I stood there with my hips and tits and ass, grinning….he never did figure it out. He thought I was a man. Perhaps he noticed the way I folded my hands…right thumb on top. Maybe he noticed my relatively long ring finger. Or the way I so adroitly perceived all those hotel lobby angles.

Half an hour later I am back in the lobby asking the concierge where to eat. Again, very prim and proper, he greets me with, “Good evening sir. How can I help you sir?” I ask him my questions about local restaurants and he starts to answer…and then I see the recognition emerge. He softens a bit, embarrassment fueling a new eagerness to be helpful to me…and then he bids me a sir-less goodnight.

Now for the latest mystery I am grappling with regarding my manish-male-brained self. I have a personals profile on the website and a valued feature lets me see who has viewed my profile. Lately, straight women have been checking out my page with baffling frequency. This mystifies me…women who clearly state they are looking for relationships with men. I don’t understand since I clearly state that I am looking for connections with women….oh, and I also disclose that I am, in fact, a woman. It puzzles me because any search they would initiate looking for men would filter me out. Are they somehow picking up on and following my very male-brained ways and jumping across the dyke/straight divide?

Anyway, my work beckons and I am now guilting myself into responding. Thanks for reading.

Mr. RainH20

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